Back in 1964, Canadian educator and communication theorist Marshall McLuhan coined an expression to forever be associated with his name:
“The medium is the message.”
McLuhan maintained that the forms and methods (the “media”) used to communicate information have a significant impact on the messages they deliver. He argued that modern electronic communications would have far-reaching sociological, aesthetic, and philosophical consequences, to the point of actually altering the ways in which we expose, experience, and exploit the world.
Yet, the medium is the message cannot stand alone; it must be understood as part of a communication paradigm.
In its simplest form, “communication” is what happens when a sender (or source) delivers a message to a receiver. The plot thickens, however, when two essential ingredients – encoding and decoding – are added to the recipe, each of which has a tremendous impact on the flavor and taste of the message.
To communicate such that a message is understood, reacted to, and action taken (or not), that message must move from being an idea to a message by translating or “encoding” what the sender is thinking into words and images sent to the receiver. For his or her part, the receiver must “decode” or decipher the message to be understood.
It’s quite complex when the sender’s assumed meaning of words, images, and actions aren’t the same as the receiver’s. Think about the differences between connotation and denotation. Or, for that matter, the challenge of translating words and expressions from one language to another. Though we might use words which are technically correct according to our culture, background, and experience, they may come across as something entirely different to another person in a different time, place, and/or society.
For instance, the Bible. Or the Constitution of the United States.
Experts are relied upon to adjudge the current meaning of words and phrases used back when these documents were created. We cannot assume that their meaning is stagnant or unchanging from then to now, there to here.
It is here that Marshall McLuhan’s theories must stand the test of time.
McLuhan focuses on the role, purpose, and meaning of the message itself—one of the three components of communication—downplaying the other two.
According to McLuhan, a “message” may comprise one of three elements:
• The person or people involved. Think of Jesus, Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Oprah, Franco, Trump, FDR, JFK, MLK, Fidel Castro, the Queen. For the Portuguese, especially, Amalia Rodrigues … who embodied the essence of fado which, in turn, defined the people she sang about—and others similarly aligned. It doesn’t matter what they were saying or how and where, as such people (and others) were the word or message incarnate.
• The medium. Newspapers, magazines, radio, television, blogs, the Internet. CNN or Fox News. The New York Times and The Daily News. Google, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn. McLuhan believed that real communication occurred by neither the persons involved nor the composition of the message. It all depends on the medium involved, he held. Fox News fans will eagerly dispute what’s being said on CNN or MSNBC, just as vice-versa is valid. Those who rely on the New York Times or Washington Post aren’t receptive to the same information if brought to them by the New York Post, The Sun, or tacky tabloids. What Rachel Maddow or Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity report is acknowledged or dismissed, depending on their fans. Misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation further cloud a medium’s message, which is why so many have abandoned the mainstream media in favor of the players, platforms, and banners that cater to their own viewpoints. Welcome to the world of pandering podcasts and YouTube channels.
• The message. Forget about the people and the medium, say some. They’re but extensions at best, complications at worst. The message is the message. Period. End of story. Except, as those in marketing have known forever, it’s not about trains but transportation. It’s not about clothing, but how we feel. It’s not about perfume or cologne, but allure. Most of the money spent on creating and delivering messages boils down to human wants and needs, no matter how healthy and humane or dismal and depressing: Lust. Greed. Gluttony. Fear. Thrift. Anger. Hatred. Love. Compassion. Comprehension. Prejudice. Greed. Gluttony. Selfishness. Strength. Weakness. Nationalism. Tribalism. Territorialism. Imperialism. Capitalism. Democracy. Socialism. Communism. And the list goes on …
Which brings us to today.
Today’s big issue is focused on Ukraine. What’s the intrinsic message? The people: Putin and Biden, basically. The media: Breaking news, breaking news, breaking news. (Turn down the noise and clutter, please!) The overt messages: A nation’s sovereignty must be sacrosanct and never allowed to be invaded; or, perilous forces are getting too close for comfort and we have every right to self-preservation.
Take any issue and ask yourselves what’s the overt – and covert – messages implied: Climate change. Equal rights. Black lives (Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Women’s, LGBT, et al) matter. Poverty. Human trafficking. Police brutality. Social injustice. Fiscal policy. Party politics. Pandemics. Whatever …
It’s enough to make one’s head spin and stomach churn.
That’s one of the aspects so meaningful to our lives here in Portugal and Spain. We’re able to go about our daily lives, dealing with the bureaucracy and tuning out the noise and news. Sure, we can access them through television, high-speed Internet, and mobile devices. But why? Whether on a patch of land or village row house and café on the town square, we’ve adjusted ourselves to a less complex life in a simple but satisfying country.
Perhaps we’re fools, feeling safe(r) and more secure. So what? After all, there’s always amanhã and mañana.
Walter Cronkite, the kindly father of TV newscasting, used to lament that his biggest challenge was to determine what wouldn’t air on his nightly, 30-minute newscasts. Because, back in the day, if it wasn’t part of Uncle Walt’s message, it wasn’t news or worth worrying about.
And, that’s the way it was … and ought to be again.
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I’m talking about flies, gnats, buzzy buggers, and hovering hoodwinks. Not to mention ‘squitos, dive-bombers, and flying ants.
They land on our food, swim in our drinks, nest down our drainpipes, lodge in our eyes, sing trebling love songs in our ears.
And no matter how we try, we can’t get rid of them.
Invest what you will in window fly screens, swatters, battery-operated boomerangs, electric gizmos or gadgets that zap them, hang sticky strips that grab and hold them, or buy old-fashioned “natural” aerosols that claim to remove them in an environmentally friendly way.
The only sure-fire way to get rid of them – one at a time – is to have someone as talented as my partner, Russ, around. (Except, perhaps for David and his Goliath slingshot, I’ve yet to meet anyone else who can precisely target flies with rubber bands, hit them with bullseye precision, and watch them drop. One of these days I am going to shoot a video of his perfect aim and conquests, then post it on YouTube or submit the vid to America’s Got Talent.)
Like cockroaches and rodents, the swarming wings of insect brigades — or even an errant fly out of season — refuse to surrender. Ever notice how the bigger (older?) ones don’t have the get-up-and-go of the smaller, swaggering, bolder ones? The latter always seem to get away, staying around to tease us again and again. Their fatter friends are easier to smash as they languish lazily on a windowpane, drawer, or refrigerator door.
Heaven help us when those invasive Asian tiger mosquitos descend!
Of all the places we lived before Portugal and Spain, only West Virginia came close to the number of flying demons and little lady bugs – Japanese beetles – that committed collective hari-kari on the inside tracks of our sliding doors. What a stink, sweeping them up or emptying the vacuum cleaner bags. Mountain folk wisdom was to hang a clear plastic bag full of water on your entry door. That would keep them out. Curiously, it often did.
But not here in Iberia, where they’re everywhere we want to be. Basically, our choices boil down to being oblivious and ignoring them, as the natives do (even when the darned nasties are crawling all over their skin). Aren’t you tempted, honestly, to reach out and smack that litter bugger crawling up and down the cheeks of the person sitting opposite you, his or her tearful sweat creating swimming pools for flies?
If you can’t – or won’t – learn to live with them, you’ll need to live without them. You know what that means …
In my role as a public relations executive, one of our accounts was a homeopathic bug spray company that promised to do away with the bugs harmlessly and recycle them back into the earth. Their packaging and cans were idyllic—using pastel colors and lyrical wording to make shoppers feel less guilty about destroying the predators. But, despite all good intentions, customers weren’t buying it. My job was to find out why. We used focus groups. Here’s what we learned: When it comes to killing these stealthy pests, people bypass the pretty cans in grocery store aisles and head for the skull and crossbones, instead.
RAID: KILLS BUGS DEAD!
That’s the message most consumers like me want to hear.
Because bugs make themselves at home with us (not contributing to the mortgage or rent) in our kitchens and dining rooms, or – worse – our bedrooms and bathrooms. Can there be anything more annoying than sitting down to take a wiz or do a #2 … only to discover that you’ve got insatiable company in the loo? Or, for that matter, more satisfying than smashing their innards out with a magazine, newspaper, advertising flyer, or paperback book in hand before taking care of your business?
Except for a mention, I’m not planning to discuss the flying bombasts that cling for dear life to our car grilles, mirrors, bumpers, and painted surfaces. Florida calls them “love bugs,” probably because they love to hug and kiss these objects of our desire … leaving their residues behind to clog the namesake lattices and bumpers of our vehicles and ruin the luster of extra-cost metallic paints with their kindred clusters.
Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me is *a minstrel show song from the 1860s that has remained popular since that time. It was sung by soldiers during the Spanish–American War of 1898, when flies and the yellow fever mosquito were a serious enemy.
I’ve got news for *Wikipedia: they still are.
Whether in Portugal or Spain, this American is tempted to scream these words in his war against the flying, hovering whizzes from hell, marauders that would make me their prey:
With the steady increase of Americans and other English-speakers in Portugal, it became evident — while living in the country’s interior — that news and commentary was focused on one region (the Algarve) with nods to Lisbon and Porto … and presuming that all English-speakers here are British.
Something more than fragmented Facebook groups and online “expat” forums was needed to cover stories of interest throughout all areas of Portugal to people residing here or in the process of relocating to Portugal … from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Belgium, South Africa, and other English language countries.
That’s why we created Portugal Living Magazine.
Layering a variety of engaging features, integrated departments, continuing columns, commentary, photos, and original artwork, Portugal Living Magazine presents a wide variety of stories about people and places, invaluable information, and answers to questions about living happily in Portugal.
Offering free digital subscriptions and promoting a national community orientation for expats and immigrants, Portugal Living Magazine took root and flourished. In addition to growing issues from 48 to 70 pages, the magazine hosts this popular Facebook Page, a website, and a new YouTube channel.
Different in content and purposes than Facebook groups and online forums, Portugal Living Magazine is delivered directly to subscriber email inboxes. Our Facebook Page is updated daily with dozens of news stories and a wealth of irresistible pictures, while our website includes everything from current and future issues to blog posts, linked resources, and advertising or sponsorship information. Our YouTube channel with original content premieres 1 February.
Our continuing commitment is to provide free subscriptions to everyone who wants to read Portugal Living Magazine, with advertising covering the publishing costs of production and distribution. Alas, we’re not there yet. Deficit spending has been funded from the pockets of our founder.
We’ve created ways that you can help: Our Patreon page encourages donors to contribute one, three, or eight euros monthly. Prefer to make a one-time gift? Deposit it directly to our bank account at this IBAN: PT50.0036.0136.99100034067.63.
Felicidades from our team to you and your loved ones!
Bruce H. Joffe Publisher/Creative Director
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Much of what I like most about the King James Version is the beauty inherent to its prose. Whether Psalms, Proverbs, Peter and Paul, or Prophets, I almost always find the version’s way of saying things – even when (mostly) inaccurate—poetic. Which version of the 23rd psalm can compare with the beauty and eloquence of the King James?
My undergraduate education was at the University of Madrid, during the days when Francisco Franco reigned. The world was a frightful place with Vietnam, Watergate, civil rights marches and riots, assassinations of beloved leaders, Khrushchev banging his shoe on a table at the United Nations while threatening “We will bury you!” and campus crusades ending in pools of blood.
In Franco’s Spain, however, the armed civil guard stood sentry on every street … ready to shoot first and (not) ask questions later. Especially when it came to students—university students—who were considered radical rabble-rousers causing trouble.
Young and old, many of us took up the arts for solace—playing music, painting, writing—to quell the anguish in our souls.
Some 50 years ago, I worried these words out in Spanish:
O, mi dolorosa verdad que evade los ojos …
Te buscaba entre las espinas de la vida.
¿Es que has muerto en un siglo cortísimo?
O, que, ya vives,
pudriéndote cada dia?
Roughly translated, my words mourned about the search for a painful and elusive truth, asking if it had died in a short, bygone era … or whether it still lived, albeit diseased and decaying, every day.
I think of my Spanish poem often these days.
Somehow, it seems even more relevant now than then.
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I wish I could find a doctor to treat – and fix – my algorithmea in the same way s/he deals with my allergies and arthritis.
Here in Portugal and Spain, that usually means a medical consult followed by lab tests, more consults, and meds.
If only it were so easy dealing with the algorithms causing my algorithmea!
Like the “Bogie Man” and “El Coco,” they’re invisible (to me, at least), yet have taken hold of my life. Sarting with Facebook:
I realize that every single bit of data about my personal profile – age, income, locations, friends, preferences, politics, education, what I like (or don’t) and follow – is mixed and mingled by Facebook’s manipulations. So, whatever I see on my feed is custom-tailored for me. And, perish the thought that I click on a “sponsored” link! Within minutes, I’m deluged with ads for similar services or products that last for days. Sometimes after a hiatus, they return to haunt me again.
The good news, I guess, is that I’m only receiving promotional messages which, supposedly, will interest me, instead of other junk scattered through the great commercial diaspora.
(The bad news, of course, is that I’m not interested. If I want to buy something or learn more about it, chances are that I’ll be more responsive to my own Google searches than anything that Facebook sends my way.)
Which brings up another symptom of my algorithmea:
I am absolutely certain that these pillars of the Internet’s most powerful platforms collude somewhere in back rooms filled with smoke and mirrors, shaking hands and hand-me-downs of yours truly.
What makes me suspect this conspiracy of complicity against little, old me? Simple! No matter which “social” medium – Amazon, YouTube, LinkedIn or even so-called customer service websites that supposedly provide price comparisons and reviews for whatever I want in my geographical area, they’re almost instantly followed, cloak-and-dagger, by successive posts on Facebook. Heck, even weather channel sites are involved. Whenever I check on the forecasts, wouldn’t you know it that appropriate clothing and accessories for the climate crises appear, ipso facto, on my Facebook feed.
Amazon is just as bad. It keeps records and reminds me of what I bought (when), acknowledging my (good) tastes and encouraging me to reorder. And if I don’t want to, because I’m looking for something else? Presto: Amazon provides slews of suggestions. Next visit, it anticipates my needs and wants, recommending that I take a look-see at the products it recommends. To think, this bazaar, the whole enchilada, started as an online bookstore!
Netflix knows what I like to watch on the screen and is always there – even when the action is paused for a potty break – to recommend others it presumes I will like. Gee, how I miss my school librarian who got to know me and my favorites (genres, authors, styles) before doling out book recommendations.
Maybe it all started with radio?
Pandora, a subscription-based music streaming service owned by Sirius XM Holdings, was founded in 2000 (as Savage Beast Technologies) focusing on recommendations based on the “Music Genome Project” — a means of classifying individual songs by musical traits. The service originally launched in the consumer market as an Internet radio service, which would generate personalized channels based on these traits and songs liked by the user. In 2017, the service launched Pandora Premium, an on-demand version of the service more in line with its competitors: Spotify,YouTube Music, AccuRadio, and a bunch of others that allow you to choose a constant stream of music based on your favorite singers, styles or genres, or even topics.
Let’s say I want to hear Christmas music. Even “Jingle Bells,” despite its huge number of versions and singers. All fine and good. Of course, my one or two cringe-worthy crooners play repeatedly, over and again. Is there a way I can further fine tune my settings so that I get Christmas music including Jingle Bells—except for when performed by Singer X (and Y and Z)?
Consider my car. In addition to telling me when my fuel or tire pressure is running low, it also warns me when it thinks I should up-shift, slow down, correct course, and/or if I’m getting too close to something behind (or before) me. It decides when to turn on my windshield wipers — even if there’s no rain or condensation – and fog lights. I have no desire whatsoever for a self-parking (or -driving) car. Lord, have mercy!
Nor do I want a refrigerator that probes the condition of its contents and informs me of what foods are rotten and should be tossed. Or, somehow, knows what I’m running low on and creates a shopping list for me—complete with suggested menus.
Please don’t misunderstand: I do appreciate, even value, some features of certain “smart” appliances. For instance, my washing machine and dryer. It’s good to know that they’ll compensate for the weight of my load and adjust water levels, spin speeds, and drying time as needed.
“I think; therefore I am” was the end of the search Descartes conducted for a statement that could not be doubted. He found that he could not doubt that he himself existed, as he was the one doing the doubting in the first place. In Latin (the language in which Descartes wrote), the phrase is “Cogito, ergo sum.”
Nowadays, I no longer need to think, as algorithms crunch my data, analyze the findings, and direct my paths accordingly.
“I input, therefore I am output” may be our new mantra.
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No country’s population can summarily be described or branded by words—regardless how precise or generalized the terminology. Only by engaging and interacting directly with people do you get to know them, observing how they behave in given situations. And so it is with the Portuguese, a people long associated with a sentiment (saudade) and a song (fado). Yet the Portuguese are smart, motivated, progressive, eco-friendly, compassionate people.
Many Portuguese have a better handle on English than we do on their language. In school, they’re required to study English not as a “foreign” language, but as part of their core curriculum. With certain people, I’ve learned that it’s best to engage with them as they prefer – in English – rather than to insist on practicing our Portuguese.
By no means am I an expert – neither sociologist, anthropologist, nor psychologist – but, in some offbeat ways, I have come to understand a handful of habits and willful ways of these western Iberia inhabitants.
While scientific reasoning objects to reaching collective conclusions about a people based on the experiences of one person from another country, perhaps such indigenous “tendencies” might be better ascribed as cultural. We can better understand Portuguese behavior – and react accordingly – if we are aware of cultural norms and traits.
Our initial encounters with Portuguese people took place online: Facebook. I received a message from the son of the woman we purchased our property from in Lousa — a village of about 550 in Castelo Branco that gets confused with Lousã in Coimbra — informing me that it had been raining quite hard for over a week and, now, the wind had pushed open one of the doors on our second floor balcony. Who knows how or why it happened, but the point was to get that door firmly closed asap. We put out an emergency call for help to members of several local Facebook groups we’d joined–using Google Translate, of course. Shortly thereafter, we heard via Messenger that a man and woman from the village had taken a ladder and toolbox to our house. The soaked wet senhor climbed up onto our balcony and succeeded in securing the door. Unfortunately, trying to leave, he discovered that the front door had been locked from the inside. No key was found. So, he went back to the second floor living room and let himself out, securing the errant door behind him before retreating down those slippery ladder steps.
Alex and Olga are among our closest friends in Portugal now.
While friendly and caring, the Portuguese are essentially private people. They’ll make you feel welcome by bringing baskets of fruits and vegetables from their gardens, ironically, they will never intrude. It’s highly unlikely that they’ll even step inside your house, no matter how long you are neighbors. Knocking on the door and conversing outside is one thing … but coming inside is quite another. It’s just not done.
This isn’t the case only with “foreigners”; it’s how the Portuguese treat each other. Of course, they get together for meals and camaraderie, but such festivities usually take place in a café or eating establishment—not in their homes.
Like many of us, Portuguese people are “caught up in the moment” and totally focused on whomever they’re dealing with or speaking to, often keeping us waiting for their attention. Go into any supermarket and you’ll see workers talking to customers (or other workers). They won’t even make eye contact with you until they’re finished with their current interlocutor. Curiously, however, there are some Portuguese who will disregard etiquette and break into line or interrupt a conversation.
Supermarkets bring up food and another interesting aspect of Portuguese customs: their time in restaurants. Unlike the USA (and elsewhere?) where – miraculously! – everything takes the same amount of time to prepare and cook so that everyone at the table is served simultaneously, dishes in Portugal are brought out helter-skelter, independently. You can be finished your meal before your tablemates get theirs. A classic case of eating alone, together. Good thing that wine is so cheap and bread plentiful!
Food and meals are taken quite seriously in Portugal—at least as regards their times allotted. Lunch time, especially, is revered. No matter what they are doing, it stops between 13h and 15h (1:00-3:00) or 13h30 and 15h30 (1:30-3:30). After all, we need a half-hour to get where we’re eating and another 30 minutes to return. Those 60 minutes sandwiched in between are necessary to be served and eat with gusto (gosto). To savor and digest the food slowly, with beer or some wine.
Our expectations don’t always jive with the Portuguese’s when it comes to work being contracted. They will perform their jobs meticulously … but if it’s not in the job description or contract, the Portuguese don’t believe it’s necessarily their responsibility.
Example? We had the electric wiring throughout our house upgraded, which necessitated the installation of a new circuit box, as called for in our contract. After days banging and chiseling out the old cement surrounding our antiquated panel to accommodate the space required for the (larger) new one, the circuit box was installed. But all the plaster and dust settling everywhere following the wall surgery? Not their problem. Nor was the awkward frame of new, off-white plaster which stood out like the proverbial sore thumb needing rendering and painting to match the beige wall. Another time, Portuguese workers installing new windows and doors in our house (accidentally) cut the door bell wires. Our problem to fix it, not theirs. They’re installers, not electricians.
Of course, many Portuguese tradesmen and contractors clean up after themselves and go the extra mile in their work. Point is, don’t take it for granted or expect it to be done. We’ve learned that old ounce of prevention is more than worth a pound of cure by spelling out our expectations precisely when negotiating contracts and agreements.
Whether forgetful, negligent, or devil-may-care, some Portuguese people take days to answer an email … if they respond at all. Immediacy just isn’t that important. Promptness or priority isn’t often the issue; it’s just that the Portuguese often don’t see any reason or need for responding. To their credit, sometimes we foreigners don’t know when enough is enough: I send a digital greeting card to family or friends. They reply, thanking me for the card and thinking of them. I reply with a thumbs-up or smile emoticon. They feel obliged to respond in kind. And, so it goes …
On the road, the Portuguese may be daredevil (or slowpoke) drivers, but they actually stop at pedestrian crossings, yielding way to people. It’s a lesson in civility (and safety) that many of us should take more seriously.
Like Covid, the Coruna virus.
It says something special and relevant about the people of Portugal that the country has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates. So far, Portugal has administered at least 19,476,353 doses of COVID vaccines. Assuming every person needs two doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about 94.8% of the country’s population–with booster shots not far behind. People wear masks and follow directives issued by the state’s national health department. Not only do they care about themselves, they’re concerned about others.
Often considered the “Canadians of Europe,” there’s one thing capable of angering the Portuguese: They don’t appreciate being compared to the Spanish.
And, why should they?
All nationalities have quirks and idiosyncrasies that set them apart; that’s part of the charm of the people and the place. After the initial culture shock, you’re sure to find the Portuguese welcoming and wonderful people!
Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.
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Sesame Street characters, athletes and other celebrities, politicians, health care professionals, bots, government spokespeople, misfits and the marginalized, and ordinary, regular people share this in common: They’re victims or perpetrators of prejudice, hatred, lies, and deliberate misinformation.
Like Covid, malice and fear-mongering know no borders. Those of us who tried to escape the lunacy by moving to another country have learned history’s quintessential lesson: no matter how far we go, there’s no place to hide. Especially when complacency and discord blind us from recognizing the foes and fears that follow us.
Part of dealing with the challenges of our new lives abroad is coping with unresolved tensions we may have thought we’d left behind.
Or the insidiousness sprouting in hitherto peaceful places, as natives are infected by an onslaught of newcomers with nasty habits and not-so-hidden hubris.
While most of us were supported in our decision to relocate abroad, some of the people we know and don’t know – families, friends, even strangers – take issue with us for leaving the homeland. Their reasons are varied, but essentially boil down to certain considerations:
● Loss and Estrangement. Family and friends, especially, are disappointed that we’ll no longer be as accessible to them as we had been. They’re right! Despite connecting on social media, person-to-person audiovisual chats, phone calls, and occasional trips back to visit, our lives, thoughts, and activities increasingly are focused on our current – not former – environment. Sometimes, the emotions and logistics of planning visits are complicated, causing consternation and conflicts. Although some expats and immigrants have no second thoughts about returning to the country they left, others are so repulsed (and scared!) by the emotional climate and turmoil of their homeland that they ‘d rather not set foot there again. Trying to explain our resistance is an ongoing process.
● Situational Complications. While many of those closest to us would love to join us and live abroad, they can’t, due to reasons ranging from family commitments or entanglements to employment, education, health issues, etc. Their motivations and tugs-of-war with significant others in their own spheres aren’t as imperative as are ours. Genuinely happy about our decision to leave for greener pastures (cost of living, health care, safety and security, etc.) elsewhere, there’s a wee bit of apprehension and jealousy that we’re doing something they can’t. These scenarios are rife with opportunities for misunderstanding and/or miscommunication that can threaten the status of even the most well-meaning relationships.
● My Country Right or Wrong “Love it or leave it” may have been replaced by “stay and defend our rights” in the face of intolerable autocratic abuses, but the passions embodied by such catch phrases can be strong and and offensive. Other citizens can’t always understand how we do make our voices heard and votes count from abroad by contributing our time, talents, and resources to people and organizations we believe can make things better “over there.” We write letters to the editors of newspapers, magazines, websites, and blogs. We send emails and faxes to elected “representatives,” informing them of our perspectives regarding matters of consequence. Posting, commenting, responding, and sharing diplomatically on the “social” media, we join and participate in expat groups that represent our interests … maybe even marching and rallying to show our solidarity with others who believe as we do. We’re involved “back home” as registered overseas voters, encouraging others – wherever they live – to register and vote.
●Divisive Politics Arrogance and intimidation – the sincere belief that “we’re right and you’re not” – cannot be constrained by borders. These tears in the fabric of our social conscience and affiliated responsibilities have broken the ties that bound families and friends … regardless if an international move was involved or at issue. As we learn the language and culture of our new country and, in the process, become more involved in its welfare, we become aware that the politics of division – especially as fostered by the alt-right – permeate peoples everywhere. For now, however, despite the ticks and pricks of ultra-conservatives, the freedoms and benefits we enjoy in left-of-center countries appear to be strong and pervasive. Yet here, too, we must be vigilant and persevere.
● Belligerence and Retribution Throughout history, there always have been haters, people who resent others for whatever their reasons. But the access to unfettered podiums in Internet town squares reaching millions, and ability to hide behind social media’s anonymity – or, increasingly, not to – have given rise to attacks from people whose lives revolve around chaos, supremacy, conflict, and their crippling effects. They are resentful, hawkish (even if “Christian”), and waver between autocracy, anarchy, and annihilation. Hitherto fringe elements of civilized society, they are intent on making their way into the mainstream. Some are byproducts of others who seek to spread lies, misinformation, and other tactics designed to bring down democracy … even as others are real, repugnant, and reprehensible whisperers whose malevolent behavior creates havoc.
These aren’t the pleasant thoughts we want to dwell on as we plan and proceed with our international relocation; yet they are troubling concerns that – sooner or later – we will face in some shape or form, going hand-in-hand with the “new normal” that’s undermined civics and ethics and most everything that these words connote.
Be aware. Be polite. Be prepared.
Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.
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While public, media, and government attention was riveted by the emotional distress caused to teens and young women by Facebook subsidiary Instagram, most lost sight of the bigger crime committed:
“[M]illions of small businesses weren’t able to reach potential customers … around the world,” testified Frances Haugen (aka the “Whistle-blower”) on October 5th to a Senate Commerce subcommittee.
Facebook exacts a far greater toll on the myriad businesses that trust and follow the oversize social medium´s suggestions to bolster their businesses by creating and promoting “Pages” … with Facebook’s guidance, of course.
Pages are far more profitable for Facebook than users and user groups.
Follow the money, and you’ll easily see why …
Maintaining a presence on Facebook is a perceived marketing requisite for major brands and big businesses to build loyalty for these well-known names; but a Facebook Page for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and paperback writers boosts Facebook’s income with a continuous feed of revenue streams.
I don’t have thousands of pages of internal research and documents at my disposal to prove my point, but I do have extensive experience(s) to share—come-ons and addictive snake oil which have impacted countless businesses besides mine.
It starts by Facebook engaging you to create a Page for your business online. With Facebook, of course. While not every business can afford the costs of building and maintaining its own website, what better place to advertise than the largest online people portal of all? And Facebook promises to help you, every step of the way.
After all, Facebook knows who we are and targets us (specifically), even as it’s able to pinpoint precisely the people we want to reach.
Once you’ve completed its questionnaire with information Facebook can use in its enormous data base-driven marketing machine … and added some attractive graphics … you’re set up and ready to publish your Page.
Don’t forget that publishing implies distribution, as well as a product.
So, Facebook tells you to begin promoting your new Page by inviting all of your friends and acquaintances (on Facebook) to *Like* and *Follow* your Page, urging them to *Share* it with all of their Facebook contacts.
Not unlike a Ponzi scheme, as the number of people who like your Page grows, you’re drugged by that rush of adrenalin and anxiety … to attract more people, always more, to the product.
The question now becomes, what’s the product: your Page or Facebook?
It’s here that Facebook begins with its financial inducements, tagging you with a plethora of ways to promote your Page through Facebook advertising. You can spend money to *Boost* a popular post on your Page. You can spend money to convince new people—people you don’t know – to like your Page. You can spend money to make people click on an ad and be linked directly to your website, where they can conduct business with you. There are plenty of opportunities to pay the Facebook piper, over and again, especially since this online platform offers the most precise targeting to reach prospects in your preferred audience. Besides, you can augment your reach through Facebook subsidiaries—like Instagram!
Ultimately, I spent nearly $2,000 promoting my Page through Facebook’s daily $5 to $25 promotions for five to seven consecutive days.
It adds up quite quickly.
Like Citizens United, Facebook treats Pages (businesses) as it does people. Pages can join groups and post to these groups as the Page, not the person. Pages get their own, internal news feed based on the groups you’ve joined, other Pages you like, and any other entity Facebook thinks is appropriate. Moreover, Facebook will send you messages when it thinks there’s a post elsewhere on its platform that you should read. It will continue to suggest groups, media, and Pages to add to the favorites appearing on your looped news feed. And it makes it relatively simple to share a post from your Page’s news feed (which only you can see) with others who follow your Page.
Facebook has helped you survive through increased recognition (growth) and applause (reactions and comments to the posts on your Page).
Until, one day, it happens: Facebook’s algorithms turn against you, making it virtually impossible to use your Page. Those posts from others you’ve shared? You can’t anymore. Facebook times you out, no longer permitting you to share posts on your Page … or even to post directly on your own Page!
Click the “Share” button once too often, and you’ll get messages like this one when trying to share something on your Page: “Your message couldn’t be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive.” You’ve got to be kidding, right? Nope!
Try posting something directly—not by sharing but be entering it directly to your Page. It’s your own content you’re publishing … or trying to, at least. Now, you’ll get this kind of message courtesy of Facebook’s algorithms: “We limit how often you can post, comment or do other things in a given amount of time in order to help protect the community from spam. You can try again later. If you think this doesn’t go against our Community Standards, let us know.”
Try again later? Define “later,” please: An hour or two? A couple of days? A week? It’s been six weeks now and I’m still waiting … although I did try to let them know that, in no way, did my posts violate their community standards.
Have you ever tried to contact Facebook to let them know something’s wrong, not working, needs immediate attention? LOL! Their phone may be answered, after a fashion, but it’s not connected to anyone. Click on that hyperlink under “Let us know” (not even a “please” of common courtesy). Yeah, right. Whatever you send ends up somewhere in that black hole of cyberspace. Facebook doesn’t want to be bothered with our problems; instead, it has Forums for this, that, and the other thing.
But still no answers to my conundrum.
I did mention that I tried contacting Facebook through the Community Standards link included in its “You’ve been a bad boy” comment under whatever I tried to publish on my Page? (Eight times!)
Finally, I tried to outwit the system and its algorithms. I had been paying to promote my Page. There, in the Ad Center section, was a “Need Help?” button. Queued up, I awaited someone to appear on the chat screen. Finally, someone did. Felicia from Facebook Concierge Support.
I reviewed in agonizing detail – down to the screen shots – what I’d been experiencing (or not) on Facebook for the past six weeks.
“We greatly appreciate your patience while waiting for an update and for your cooperation on this case,” Felicia began. “We have received an update from our Internal Team and we would like to share with you the update below: We have limits in place to prevent abuse of our features and to protect people from spam and harassment. For example, if someone is sending out a lot of messages to people they aren’t friends with, they may be warned or temporarily blocked from sending messages. Limits are based on different factors, such as speed and quantity, but we can’t provide additional details on the rate limits that are enforced. Our team concluded that the issue should now be resolved from your end. If this is not correct or if you are not satisfied with the resolution provided, please feel free to reply to this email and I will get in touch with you as soon as possible.”
Immediately, I opened my errant Page and tried to post. Nothing … but those same messages contained in the screen shots above. I reread Felicia’s response. Her “Internal Team” must comprise even more algorithms. No information could be provided about the “rate limits” imposed and enforced. Yet, the “team” concluded that the issues should now be resolved from my end. Double entendre? Was she saying that Facebook had resolved my issues and I should no longer experience the problems? Or was the implication that it was up to me to find and fix the problems?
Certain that Felicia was a bot, artificial intelligence working for Facebook, I replied, nonetheless, to her email, saying that I continued to experience the same Page problems that I’d contacted Facebook about time and again.
Her response came within hours:
“Thank you for responding and sharing your concern with us. We can understand how important this can be for you. Please be informed that we are re-coordinating again with our support team and they are investigating on this case. Rest assured that necessary steps and follow up are done to emphasize the urgency of this case and as soon as we have an update, we will coordinate with you through this email thread. Until this case get resolved, we will keep this ticket number open and keep you updated.”
I no longer am certain that Felicia is a bot, artificial intelligence, or that her algorithms are appropriately aligned. “We are re-coordinating again?” The support team “are investigating on this case?” And one of the longest run-on sentences of Donald Trump double-speak?
This is whom I had entrusted with my Facebook future and livelihood?
Meanwhile, I noticed that my own personal posts on my personal profile’s feed no longer were receiving the usual reactions or responses that they’d cultivated since I joined Facebook. Whereas I typically received about a dozen or so emojis in reaction and at least several comments, now I’m not receiving any (of either). It’s as if the algorithms are teaming up to conspire against me personally, as well as my Page(s).
It’s already been almost two months since I’ve been locked away in Facebook prison, unable to add feed for my followers.
Without fresh, new, content, people stop visiting your Facebook Page. You’re old news, about which they no longer care.
Facebook’s nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude and irresponsibility — perhaps even malfeasance — have caused me and many others to suffer grave injustices. For some, like me, we have paid good money to Facebook only to receive damages and losses as a result.
We desperately need legislative reform of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook.
Facebook is bigger and more powerful than most nations. It starts wars, takes sides, and spreads misinformation. In the process, it kills the very businesses that – once upon a time – it helped to establish.
Now, it’s the world’s biggest monopoly and money pit that’s stifled and absorbed any real competition. There’s nowhere else to go, nobody to listen, nothing but what Facebook allows to be told.
Facebook has outgrown its own britches and needs to be cut down to size.
That’s the response I get from the naysayers, those who don’t believe that Portugal is a land of milk and honey, even if its streets aren’t lined with gold. After all, almost everything they read these days paints Portugal as the best, the most, the friendliest, the warmest, the cheapest, absolutely an ideal place to live—nirvana—especially for digital nomads and foreign retirees.
And, in many ways, it is!
But, let me get this off my chest upfront—because I know there will be those mocking and taking issue with whatever I say here:
I love Portugal.
Please, reread that:
I. Love. Portugal!
Still, despite all the hype, hoopla, and fanfare about how this Iberian country is the closest to heaven on earth–calm, peaceful, friendly, welcoming, beautiful, easy on the wallet—there are some things that are bothersome here or incur a hard time getting used to.. Of course, my likes and dislikes probably differ from yours … so, what annoys or frustrates me may be perfectly acceptable to you and others. For some, these queixas aren’t applicable. And, sooner or later, we come to grips with this stuff.
I share these stories of our experiences not to complain or seek sympathy, but because we are North Americans acculturating to another country’s norms, traditions, and expectations. Information such as this typically aren’t found in tourist or relocation guides … nor asked about and answered in most Facebook groups. Hopefully, some will learn from these anecdotes and be better prepared for the grit and grist, the grain of living abroad. We love Portugal for what it is, not what it isn’t, and have no intention of leaving. And, certainly, not all “foreigners” have difficult dealing with what I may consider nuisances.
Again, let me be clear: Just because I may not like something doesn’t diminish my love for the country.Some things we get used to; others we just don’t get.
So, here’s my list of what irks me in Iberia …
Allergens. Never in my life have I had allergies—until moving to Portugal. I don’t know what’s in the environment, the air, but I cannot stop sneezing and sniffling or rubbing my itchy eyes. Perhaps it’s related to what our veterinarian warned us affects non-native dogs (and cats), requiring periodic medications. Or, more likely, it has to do with all the dust. Good heavens, you can dust something—a mirror, furniture, countertops—today and it will be back within 24 hours. Spontaneous generation? Included in this category also are heavy-duty smokers. While smoking is on the way out in many countries, it still is quite common in Portugal. If you’re coming from the USA, especially, smokers in Portugal can be very shocking. There’s no stigma attached to the unhealthy habit here.
Bureaucracy. Yeah, it’s here … and lots of it. More often than not, however, is that you never really know which form you need (or forgot to bring) and whom is the person to speak to when trying to resolve or work something out. Portuguese people tend to be friendly and, after giving you their once-over look, they’re helpful … if not happy. Despite the hoops you may have to jump through over and again — often because things are done one way in this region and another in that, while the letter of the law is interpreted differently depending upon where you are — it helps to remind yourself of how efficient transactions are with the Multibanco, how practical using the Finanças portal online is, how prudent ways exist for consumers to resolve complaints apart from suing those we believe have wronged us.
Ants, Flies, and Creepy-Crawlers. Ants are almost everywhere here in Portugal. Big ones that you find crawling along your steps and landings. Medium ones going about their business. Most of all, though, are the little ones that suddenly appear out of nowhere —entire armies—near doors, windows, and other entry points, or marching across your counters. Then, there are the flies. And gnats. And hovering predators that insist on following, needling, and targeting us … playing catch me if you can. I swear, they’re sadistic! The big, fat flies that buzz the loudest are the lamest, not lasting long against our arsenal of mechanical and chemical weaponry. It’s the smaller, quicker ones that are the nastiest. Darting around, playing hide-and-seek, they’ll find you, wherever you are—especially the loo! They last the longest and are the most persistent. Like the gnats buzzing in your ears as you’re trying to sleep … no matter how many times you slap yourself in the process of trying to say good riddance. More often than not, they swim and die drowning from overdoses of alcohol while floating in your (tinto) wine. How the Portuguese aren’t bothered by them in this café culture of outdoor dining, is beyond me. We cannot sleep with open windows without screens. Spiders, centipedes, and other common critters may creep me out; but I can deal with them. Not with the dreaded processionary caterpillars, however, whose venomous entanglements scream, “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!” to us and our furry family. My word, even if I could pronounce Leishmaniose, it’s another parasite I don’t want our dogs to encounter.
Banking It just doesn’t seem fair that we have to pay banks here for the privilege of holding and using our money to invest in their ventures, especially when coming from a country that pays us interest (however minimal) each month for the right to speculate with our hard-earned deposits. If it’s any consolation, the few euros deducted each month from our Portuguese bank accounts provide benefits (like discounts on petrol and limited health care insurance) and don’t compare with the €45-90 per quarter some Spanish banks charge to non-residents … even if you own property there!
Climate Most people associate Portugal with beaches and sunshine. Yet Portugal can be cold and damp in the winter–especially along the Atlantic coastline and north of Porto. Portugal is a long country and regions like the Algarve and Alentejo have different climates. For that matter, you can drive just ten or fifteen minutes and find yourself surrounded by completely different weather. That’s outside, of course. Inside the house is another matter entirely. Slippery cobblestone streets are very pretty — some with really cool designs — but be very careful: they’re quite slippery and dangerous when wet. (From the cobblestoned and hilly streets in the big cities to unpaved paths in the countryside and lots of sandy walkways along the coast, wearing proper shoes is a must. By all means, bring your heels too, but walking shoes will be much more useful.)
Cost of living Inflation has hit Portugal, just as it has other places worldwide. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for many Portuguese people to afford the cost of living in places like Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve … along with their suburban towns and villages. No matter where you live, however, electricity, petrol, and propane (or butane) are more costly in Portugal. Per kilowatt, Portugal is one of the most expensive countries in Europe. It’s one of the most expensive countries for taxes and fuel, which leads to a lot of people who live near the Spanish border driving across the border to fill up. (Guilty!) Other items that, at least, seem expensive here are cars, furniture, appliances, and international brands. And although you’ll sit down at a restaurant table laden with bread, butter, and cheese, some eateries will charge you for it … unless you don’t eat any. Soon enough, they’ll take these niceties away.
Customs and Deliveries The challenge of getting things delivered — albeit an online purchase, a package or letter from overseas — is a constant complaint among expats and immigrants. It’s something frustrating that you never get used to (but a small price to pay for what you get in return). CTT, the public postal service, receives more complaints than any other “service.” As for customs, the fees charged for anything imported from outside the EU are so high that it’s not unusual for import charges (taxes) to equal the value of the product purchased (or gifted) and sometimes much more. Even gifts clearly handmade by family members abroad are stopped, searched, valued at more than they could ever be sold for, and slapped with stiff import charges. And, even if you agree to pay these charges or they have been prepaid, it can take weeks — and even months — to get your deliveries released from Portuguese customs.
Domestic animals Many of us love dogs and cats. Except when we step in their discharges. Poop in the streets is the most common problem, followed by noise. Dogs barking through the night can be an issue in the countryside, as well as in residential areas, where it’s not unusual for people to leave their dogs on their apartment balconies or chained up somewhere outside.
Employment Portugal traditionally attracts older expats, especially retirees. There’s a reason for that: People don’t usually come to Portugal to work; salaries are low even by European standards … and there are only a limited number of job opportunities here. The good news is that, even though salaries are still a long way from catching up with other western European countries, there are an increasing number of jobs in Portugal. Many people are bringing work with them — whether digital nomads or working remotely for clients outside of Portugal — and young or middle-aged foreigners are cultivating the land and selling its produce or starting a growing business of their own: food-related or beauty salons.
Home construction—primarily concrete and cement—leaves much to be desired in terms of insulation. Think drywall (sheetrock/plasterboard): Remember how easy it was to hang pictures and whatever on our walls? Better tool up with a drill, lots of drill bits, a hammer, and pliers! Most houses throughout Portugal have strong interior cement walls that are rough and textured … making painting and wall-hanging time-consuming challenges. Portuguese houses can be extremely cold in the winter, as most properties don’t have central heating (or, sometimes, heating of any kind), so you may find yourself bundling up, layering, and wearing gloves inside in an attempt to keep warm. That’s not an exaggeration! Of course, you can find warm properties–especially newer builds and houses with insulation and central heating within central cities. If there’s any prejudice or distinction at all among the Portuguese, it’s based on where one lives: in the city or the “campo.”
Mold Regardless of the barricades used to keep it away, come the colder months of the year, you’ll do constant battle with mold. Typically, it appears looking like nothing more than damp shadows on your ceilings and walls (Brits refer to it as “the damp”); but then it gets dank and darker. Mold multiplies and spreads almost everywhere—even inside closets and wardrobes, attaching itself to our clothes. It’s definitely not healthy. Opening windows often to the cold, wet, and wind increases ventilation and helps to minimize mold. Nevertheless, you’re going to need a step ladder (or larger), spray bottle, cleaning rags, and face masks to tackle what’s stubbornly intruded and settled in. Many stores—groceries, supermarkets, hardware shops, even the ubiquitous Chinese bazaars—sell products to spray on, rub in, and remove the mold … but diluted vinegar and elbow grease work just as well.
(Some) Portuguese Drivers. Once they get their licenses, all hell breaks loose. About half of native Portuguese drivers are courteous and follow the laws in their roadside behavior. The remaining 50% are divided, again, in half: About 25% are speed demons and road hogs, kissing your car’s butt—regardless of whether (or not) they ultimately decide to pass you. The other 25% are slow pokes who drive 50 km/h in 80 km/h zones and 80 km/h on highways designated as 120 km/h Both types of drivers – speed demons and slow pokes – straddle more than one lane and typically drive in the wrong lane through roundabouts … sailing from the inside (left) lane to exit right, cutting you off without so much as a signal. Whether it’s people flashing their lights because they’re desperate to overtake, driving under the influence, or leaving a few millimeters when parking between their vehicle and another, driving in Portugal is über frustrating. Signal indicators are rarely used, touch parking is common in the cities, and everywhere in Portugal people often park — our double-park — diagonally across two or three spaces. Roundabout ramifications need more explanation.
Roundabouts, Parking, and Lack of Consideration. Some people swear by roundabouts and their greater efficiency over traffic lights. Others, like me, dislike them—especially the big ones with traffic coming at you from nine different directions simultaneously and nary a driver courteous enough to let you in. Panic attack territory is when there’s a series of these circles from hell … one after another. Even my GPS with its brilliant British accent can’t keep up. Before you know it, you’ve missed the seventh exit and find yourself lost along the way. And to add insult to near injury, there are pedestrian crosswalks within meters of the exit—an accident waiting to happen. Similarly terrifying are Portuguese parking lots—often with tight, awkward spaces between concrete posts that make it almost impossible to open your doors, let alone back out. They’re breeding grounds for inconsiderate parkers. Is there any reason why two cars must take up three parking spots? Park horizontally in vertical spaces? Or for drivers to park diagonally in well defined areas, often sticking their vehicles dangerously into the traffic lane, where cars are traveling in both directions, even though arrows clearly indicate which (one) way they’re supposed to move?
The flip side of the “what I don’t like about Portugal” coin is what I can’t seem to find (yet) here—stuff that’s probably no big deal to some, but important to me. Maybe these eccentricities are here hiding, just waiting for me to discover them:
• Vacuum cleaners that really can clean carpets and rugs. No matter what shop you go in or search for on Amazon, a reasonably priced vacuum cleaner that picks up the dirt and dust in carpets (especially thicker pile ones imported from elsewhere) is almost impossible to find. Ironic that upscale vacuums here are referred to as “Hoovers,” which are available online. So are Sharks, Kirbys, and Dysons. But they cost a friggin fortune—some more than 400-500 euros. In Yankee dollars, that translates to between $500 and $600. For a bloody sucker-upper! (Update: We found a vacuum cleaner that really works! It’s the Amazon Basics – [AB500] 3L 700W Bagless High Efficiency Motor Upright Vacuum Cleaner with 2 Dust Filters. But, of course, this heavy-duty appliance — for which we paid about 139€ including shipping — is “temporarily” out of stock.)
• Yard sales, estate sales, auctions, flea markets, thrift shops, and antiques malls. Yeah, I’ve been to a few “boot” sales … but, “Meh!” For intrepid bargain hunters and collectors, we wait with baited breath for those Saturday or Sunday open air markets hosting a fair share of memorabilia merchants. Sorry, online vendors: Facebook’s Marketplace, OLX, CustoJusto, and the periodic items for sale that pop up in our Facebook feeds or Portuguese second-hand groups just don’t measure up to the thrill of the hunt.
•Bagels. Yes, I’m aware that “bagels” are available in Portugal, in the bakery cases of supermarkets, padaderías and pasteleirías, and the frozen food aisles of Lidl. Sorry, Charlie, but they´re too doughy or pasty … blander than biscuits without jelly or jam. I grew up in New York, where–along with seltzer–it’s said that nowhere else can produce the same quality bagels … because of the water. Don’t believe me? Go ask Jerry Seinfeld!
• Crushed Red Pepper For the most part, pizza in Portugal is delicious—whether you prefer thin crust or deep dish, and whatever toppings you want. Except one: crushed red pepper. It’s just not served here—even when requested—in Portuguese pizzerías. Some like it hot … Piri Piri just doesn’t make it.
While we can get good pizza almost anywhere in Portugal, what we can’t (by and large) get is savory Tex-Mex or its essential ingredients (except online, through a retailer like The Chilli Experience). What the Portuguese consider tacos, burritos, tamales, and enchiladas here just don’t fit the lingo. Maybe Tex-Mex is better and more plentiful in bigger, coastal cities, but it’s sadly lacking elsewhere in the country.
So, there you have it: my big, bad list.
Ironically, my good list about Portugal is much, much longer … but can be summarized in a single paragraph, stringing words working together. We love Portugal because of its friendly people accepting of foreigners. Its diverse landscapes with a variety of climates, scenery, and topography. “Temperate” weather. Abundant arts and architecture. Safety and security. Quality of life . Strong expat/immigrant communities throughout the country. Fairy tale towns and villages. And, definitely, among the best bakeries and pastry shops in the world.
As a Boy Scout, I memorized the “Be Prepared!” motto. Now you are ready, as you prepare for your relocation to Portugal … or, as a resident already, to find whatever comfort you can in this communal balm.
I’ll end this soliloquy where I began, repeating that—despite these minor challenges and inconveniences—we love Portugal and have no intention whatsoever of moving away.
Nevertheless, there are those who are going to find fault, complain, and deplore me and my words with a variety of curious, finger-pointing comments … like, “Go back to your country!”
I am an American living in Portugal, splitting time — with my spouse — between small homes and villages in the country’s core (Alcains, Castelo Branco) and the Alentejo (Vila Boim, Elvas).
We live in the suburbs of a major city, a comfortable if not upscale vila of mixed housing–most are row houses of all shapes and sizes, although there are plenty of upscale properties with huge houses and landscaped gardens behind magnificent gates (not fences) around the town. We moved here from a smaller village (aldea) of about 500 people, down from 1,200 or more during its glory days. Today, one corner market, two cafés, and a beautician who visits twice each week comprise its commercial corps. Except for three tremendous but decaying manor homes, still grand and stately, all of the other dwellings are attached. No, that’s not quite right: around the village’s outskirts are a number of quintas inhabited by daily commuters who work for the government (elsewhere) and dirt-poor people.
After almost four years, we’ve come to know what we like most about living in Portugal, as well as a few things that frustrate or confuse us. It has nothing to do with our love for Portugal and the Portuguese, but because we grew up in another land and culture, and can’t help but see life (for the moment) through a different lens and viewpoint.
That’s not a criticism, just a fact we’ve come to understand.
Some things can’t be taught to us; we need to learn them by experience. Answers aren’t to be found in the fine print of guide books and manuals, or in the files of some Facebook group. Only time here will tell and reveal.
Who knew that Portuguese pharmacies would refill our prescription(s) from the USA – before we have a local doctor or our SNS number – simply by showing a bottle or box containing our existing medicine … or, better yet, a Rx from our American doctor? Or that, unlike the USA, right turns on red (after pausing) aren’t legal here? Who do you call if your car should break down on the road? And how long does it take until that “Eureka!” moment when we realize that gasóleo and diesel fuel are the same?
Moving from one address to another in Portugal brings its own load of lessons. After all is said and done, you remember that your mail needs to be forwarded. Should be simple enough … until you learn from the post office that it costs €20 per month for the service. Apart from the flyers and junk mail, our mailbox receives so few pieces that it’s better (suggests correios), if not simpler, to contact those postal patrons who connect with us through CTT and fill out the forms to change our address.
The same goes for Finanças, a legal requirement.
Changing addresses also means stopping by EDP (several times) to disconnect and stop service, as well as to resolve any billing issues. Are we the only ones who didn’t know that the country’s energy provider has us all on annual contracts? Sure, you can cancel your contract … but through its legal end date, you’ll continue to be billed monthly service charges.
Then, there’s shopping: We’ve been used to being able to return stuff we bought and get full refunds, as long as we bring the receipt, the item is in its original packaging, and the return is made within a designated timeframe. One major hardware and household supply chain in Portugal advertises, “Don’t worry! If you buy it here and find a lower price elsewhere, we’ll refund you the difference plus 10%!” Plenty of merchants will give you a refund in full if you return something, for whatever reason, no questions asked. But don’t ass-u-me that’s the rule everywhere. Stores aren’t required to post their returns and refunds policy, whether at the point-of-sale or on the receipt. So, before buying something, especially if it’s costly, you’d best ask about the store’s return and refund policy.
Did you know that, from the moment SEF exchanges your temporary visa for a residency permit, you’re eligible to vote in Portuguese elections? That’s right: legal residents, as well as citizens and Portuguese natives are entitled — and encouraged — to vote in local elections.
Nonetheless, Portugal’s politics, elude us … probably because there are more than two intransigent political parties. But that’s a good thing, as partisan politics here don’t appear to put party before people. Instead, coalitions are formed to move things forward—unlike certain countries where nothing progresses because of unrelenting forces meeting intractable objects.
“But it’s a socialist country,” some homelanders insist, confusing politics with economics (capitalism).
“And you don’t think there’s socialism at work in your country, too?” we reply.
Trumpism had yet to transcend the 45th president of the USA; but we saw the handwriting on the wall. The Republican Party no longer was the GOP, standing for small government and fiscal restraint. Increasingly, “regular” Americans were exhibiting hatred, vitriol, and self-serving prejudice, encouraged by the cartoonish candidate. Donald Trump was inaugurated on 20 January 2017; we left the USA with no plans to return two months later.
Despite owning a vacation bolt in Andalucía, Spain, for 15 years, Portugal beckoned and was more welcoming … in every sense of the word.
Economically, Portugal is poor, at least compared to the competition. The national minimum wage jumped this year by 6%, going from its steadfast €775.83 per month to €822.50 per month. Yearly, that amounts to US $9,052 (“international currency”), with an average hourly rate of sixteen euros.
We love Portugal for its neutrality. It’s not one of the big G7 nations … or even the G20, for that matter. Rather, the country is an active (if errant) participant in the European Union, whose most recent president was Portuguese. Portugal is also a member of NATO. It’s a safe and peaceful place; to the best of my knowledge, there’ve been no mass murders, gunfire, attack weapons, or daily violence.
It doesn’t take much (again, compared to other EU countries) to be granted a visa followed by legal and tax residency in Portugal. Doing all your homework correctly — being sure to cross every “t” and dot every “i” — will prepare most everyone for dealing with Portugal’s notorious bureaucracy. Forget to bring a document, legal identification, a signature required somewhere, and you’ll be sent to “jail” without passing “Go” and collecting your $200.
We adore the Portuguese people, some of who are our closest friends, even when they’re standing outside our house after midnight talking, without using their “inside” voices.
Yet Portugal remains somewhat of an enigma, an evasive paradox … which might explain that sense of “saudade” shared by so many of its inhabitants—increasingly including immigrants like us, who have come to experience much the same feeling.
Especially when it comes to dealing with the dust, flies, and mold!
Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Back in the USA — before relocating to Portugal — he worked as a university professor, church pastor, public relations executive, book and magazine publisher.